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In Ireland, Some Bats Are More Catholic Than Others

November 19, 1996

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) _ Don’t expect to find a Protestant bat in a Catholic belfry, not in Ireland.

Long-eared bats build nests in Roman Catholic chapels, while Natterer’s bats live in the eaves of Anglican churches.

But the difference is a question of flight, not faith.

``Long-eareds and Natterers don’t mix,″ says Kate McAney, Ireland’s only full-time bat woman. Since 1983 she has been noting their church-going habits from her base in western County Galway.

As a field officer for a private wildlife trust, McAney monitors the population and conservation of all seven species of bats in Ireland.

She’s discovered that Protestants and Catholics have bats in most of their belfries _ but Natterers stick to Protestant churches, and long-eareds to Catholic churches.

``Both species emerge late in the evening, have a warmup fly within the church, then go out to eat insects,″ she said.

The difference is their preference for the space in which to take their warm-up laps. Natterer’s bats like to nest in stone walls and take their warm-up fly in enclosed roof spaces. Those are common in Ireland’s Protestant churches.

Long-eared bats, on the other hand, like to squeeze their nests between roof slates and roof beams, then take their warm-up fly in the interior of the church. That construction is typical in Catholic churches.

There are a few apparent exceptions. One of the biggest flocks of 150-odd Natterers are in Kylemore Abbey. Benedictine nuns live there today _ but it was built in the 19th century as part of a wealthy Protestant estate.

McAney has found two places where the long-eared and Natterer’s bats mix it up: in a Galway youth hostel, which she jokingly suggests has attracted ``a young, flexible, partying kind of bat″; and in Clonmacnois, a ruined monastery that dates from long before the Reformation.

Both varieties of Irish bats are tiny, reaching no more than 2 inches long and a third of an ounce.

McAney also monitors pipistrelle bats, the most populous in Ireland because they have best adapted to modern dwellings; Daubenton’s bats, which congregate at lakes and rivers; and her favorite, the lesser horseshoe, which has a horseshoe-shaped skin flap on its face.

``The lesser horseshoe is the bat of the aristocracy,″ she said. ``They like to live in grand houses, 17th century or earlier, spending their summers in roof spaces and winters in the cellars,″ McAney said.

``I’ve visited some of the finest old houses in Ireland looking for these bats _ the longer the driveway, the greater the likelihood there’ll be a lesser horseshoe at the end of it.″

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